restricted access Three: Crossing Imaginary Borders
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106 Three | Crossing Imaginary Borders “Oye, Gloria, aguantaras hasta California?” I was expecting the significance of this tourist’s question to be diffused by nervous laughter as we huddled along a dusty path among brush in the dead of night. Instead, the question was met with awkward silence as we tried to catch our breath. Two hours into this night trek through the desert canyon of El Alberto, Mexico, in the heart of the Valle del Mezquital—­ with our field of vision limited to the person next to us but imaginatively reaching all the way to the border, some seven hundred miles north of the site of this fictional border crossing—­ the prospect of “making it” “for real” is, in fact, unimaginable . This question, “Hey, Gloria, can you make it to California?,” uttered in the context of this simulated border crossing, was an invitation—­ or perhaps a reminder—­ for all of us tourists huddled there to immerse ourselves “in the role” of migrant and to try to amplify in our imaginative vistas—­ by hours; by degrees of hunger, thirst, and fatigue; by levels of fear, injury, and threat—­ this mere fragment of an experience into the kind of journey that it might be, or could be, “for real.” In the time that has passed since this caminata nocturna, or “night walk,” as the simulation is called, the question “Can you make it to California?” remains there in that silence both awkwardly and ominously, a hollow echo of a question undoubtedly uttered in desperation by some of the roughly six-­ hundred-­ thousand-­ plus migrants who attempt to cross illegally into the United States every year.1 If the emerging through-­ line that conjoins the immersive simulations examined so far is an embodied epistemology of otherness that leads precariously and almost inevitably toward a presumptive intimacy with an imagined “other,” then there is, arguably, no other exercise that does so more dramatically than one that invites the tourist to play the role of a migrant attempting to cross the Mexico-­ US border in the dead of night. In this chapter I examine the border crossing simulation created by the Indigenous Hñahñu in the municipality of Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, roughly three hours north of Mexico City. Beyond a consideration of the contradictory poetics that lie at the heart of this tourist venture—­ which reenacts the phe- 107 Crossing imaginary borders nomenon of migration only to perform it into extinction—­ I continue the investigations of the previous chapter by probing the ethical implications of this exercise that asks the tourist to take on the identity of an “illegal” migrant. I situate the simulated border crossing in the context of an emergent brand of dark tourism and the New Moral Tourism and ask what this particularly immersive form introduces into current conversations at the intersection of tourism and performance studies. More specifically, I am interested in how an ethical ek-­stasis might articulate the means by which the tourist avoids the pitfalls of presumptive intimacy that these immersive simulations so often encourage. The broader contributions of these investigations, I hope, are those that shed light on the critical implications of a tourist exercise that imagines the border. If we think of the border as an interpolating force that hails and constitutes the identities to whom it grants passage or expels, a regulatory force that has come to constitute transnational migrant identities and fronterizas /os in movement across national boundaries, then what constitutive acts take place in a reenactment of this passage? How does a reenacted border crossing lay bare the performative force of the border? And in this laying bare, what questions does it compel us to ask about the construction of cultural identities—­ which has been the tradition in borderlands theory from Gloria Anzaldúa on—­ made in the image of “the most repressive and racist symbol of demarcation and exclusion produced by capitalism, nationalism , and imperialism—­ namely, the border”?2 If we situate the simulated border crossing in El Alberto, Mexico, as a social imaginary and praxis—­ that is, as a repertory of collective practices and symbolic representation with material impacts on the community3 —­ then its performative force becomes apparent: it not only constitutes the cultural identities of its participants but also develops a critical realism4 that dismantles, paradoxically , the very borders that might otherwise delimit them. The caminata nocturna, or night hike, takes place every Saturday night at the Parque EcoAlberto—­ an adventure tourism park run by the Hñahñu...


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